In Louisville, Kentucky, a group masquerading as a healthcare company is driving a van around impoverished neighborhoods and offering $20 for DNA samples.
Local NBC affiliate WAVE 3 News reported that the drivers of the DNA van said they were with traveling health clinic Passport Health, and the offer was only for Passport customers. but a Passport representative told reporters that they were not affiliated with the DNA van, and warned Louisville residents to not engage with them if approached.
WAVE also reports that the DNA van has been taking samples from homeless camps throughout Kentucky.
The unmarked van reportedly solicits residents for their DNA by telling them that swabbing the inside of their mouth will be used for cancer screenings. However, Dr. Aleeta Powe, an analytical chemistry professor at the University of Louisville, said it’s currently not possible to test for cancer by using mouth swabs. Both the group in the van and its reason for collecting DNA samples remains unknown.
Louisville city council member Barbara Sexton Smith said she got calls from residents in her district who were concerned about the van, and she expressed concerns about the group’s lack of transparency and accountability.
“Another example of businesses taking advantage of people who are less fortunate,” Smith told WAVE. “They’re taking DNA, then you disappear, and we can’t find you … something is wrong with that.”
The van was last seen at 34th and Broadway, in Louisville’s West side, according to WAVE. The van’s sightings throughout the West side suggest that the group is targeting residents on purpose, given the stark income divide between the predominantly poor neighborhoods in the West side and the rest of Louisville.
WHAS 11 News reported in 2017 that while the median income for residents in Jefferson County, Kentucky (which houses Louisville) is just under $50,000/year, the median income in the West side is less than half of that, with residents typically making between $21,000 and $22,000. And in the Russell neighborhood of West Louisville, median income is just $9,000/year.
Tom Cahill is a contributor for Grit Post who covers political and economic news. He lives in Bend, Oregon. Send him an email at tom DOT v DOT cahill AT gmail DOT com.